Mark Curnutte reports:
One morning within the past month, as he prepared for work as a senior scientist at Procter & Gamble, Ashraf Traboulsi learned that his brother-in-law had been injured in a bombing in Syria.
“What is difficult for me and many of us is living daily life with this in the back of our minds,” Traboulsi said of the 2½-year Syrian uprising against the government of President Bashar al-Assad. “You still have to go to meetings. Life goes on. It’s a constant struggle.”
For Traboulsi and the estimated 600 people in the local Syrian-American community, the bloody revolution that began in their homeland in March 2011 has been a source of anguish – even division – between those supporting Assad and those against him.
Yet for Syrian-Americans seeking a new government in Syria and peace for its 23 million people, violence in their homeland – including recent chemical weapons attacks by government troops against rebels and civilians – has united them in a cause and drawn them into the larger community, where they say they’ve been heartened by genuine concern and expressions of support.
“Some people don’t want to know what is going on,” said Traboulsi, 47, a married father of two sons who lives in West Chester Township. He left Syria in 1990 – becoming a U.S. citizen in 1995 – but left behind a sister and four nieces. “But other people, non-Muslims and non-Syrians, want to understand what is happening.”
To combat frustration and helplessness, as anti-government tensions arose throughout the Middle East and became known as the Arab Spring, local Syrian-Americans formed the Syrian American Foundation three years ago.
Traboulsi, its president, said the organization is into its third drive to collect relief supplies – winter clothing, shoes, toys and school supplies – to send via 40-foot sea container to Turkey. There, a nongovernmental organization takes the supplies to the estimated 6 million displaced Syrians who remain in the country. Another 2 million Syrian refugees are in camps in neighboring Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.
“We are doing what we can do,” said Dr. Mohammad Sheatt, 39, a foundation co-founder, director of TriHealth’s Pulmonary Hypertension Program and U.S. citizen for a year.
The foundation raised $184,000 at an April dinner to keep Syria’s only acute-care hospital open for two months.
Closer to home, in the Mason neighborhood where Sheatt lives with his wife and two young daughters, people who know of Sheatt’s Syrian roots have donated clothing, toys and school supplies to the foundation. Its Mason warehouse is filled with packed boxes.
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